It seemed as if we were heading toward the Bug Jar, the premiere rock and roll bar in Rochester. But then, following the commands of the nice British lady in the GPS, my dining companion and I overshot it by a few blocks and took a left into a small residential street.
On the left I saw a sign that read “Owl House,” and, though I didn’t see a trace of anything resembling the night dwelling bird, the second part of the name was spot on. It literally was a house, and, if it were not for the sign, one would hardly know that this place was any different from the others on the street. As some later research revealed, the Owl House is operating in the former location of the Atomic Eggplant, though the house has gone through a bit of updating.
As I walked into the small but comfortable dining area, I noticed that the place was quite busy for the odd time that I had chosen to eat lunch, around 3p.m. We were quickly seated and given a whole glass bottle of water to refill our cups (which were actually glass jelly jars). A few minutes after I was seated, I spied someone I knew who was a lead singer in a local band that I was fond of during my punk rock days. After he greeted me, he told me that he was one of the chefs. From what I could remember about him, he was a vegan (or, at least, vegetarian) which gave me some insight into the kind of options this self-labeled “New American”-style restaurant offers to people with alternative diets.
Okay, now to the food. As a starter my vegetarian friend and I ordered the Owl’s Baked Nachos. According to the menu, they included “braised pork shoulder or house smoked tofu, melted cheddar & feta or daiya vegan cheese, tortilla chips, salsa verde, guacamole, chipotle sour cream, chopped tomato, cabbage slaw, black bean & corn salsa.”
We opted for the smoked tofu, but kept the real cheese. I was honestly a bit skeptical about all these seemingly tasty components being piled together in nacho form, lest some stronger flavors overpower others, but these nachos were executed perfectly.
Firstly, the smoked tofu is one of the best meat substitutes I’ve ever had. Somehow they managed to pack tofu, a notoriously flavorless ingredient, with enough flavor to satisfy the most carnivorous of individuals. The texture was soft and light on the inside, but crispy and a bit chewy on the outside, which was also a feat considering the inherent sliminess of tofu’s texture. The feta cheese was a good addition, though I think the dish could have done without the melted cheddar.
The chips themselves were excellent, as well. I would assume that they were homemade, given their hearty flavor and soft-but-still -slightly-crispy texture. The guacamole was not the creamy, prepackaged substance you find in supermarkets, but thick, chunky and slightly lemony. It also went well with the slightly spicy chipotle sour cream. The cabbage slaw added a wonderful acidity and satisfying crunch. Along with the black bean and corn salsa, it contributed some bright colors to the dish. It was almost as satisfying to look at as it was to eat.
Next, I ordered a strangely named sandwich called The Cherub. The menu described it as “seared med-rare sirloin steak, roasted Portobello, gorgonzola, pickled red onion, baby arugula on baguette.” I figured that, if this restaurant treated their meat anywhere close to as well as they treat their vegetarian options, this would be a great experience.
All in all, the sandwich was very tasty. The baguette bread was good-not too soft, but not too hard either-and the pickled red onions had a bold, but not overpowering, flavor. The best part of this sandwich was the perfectly cooked and marinated Portobello. The texture was just right and the flavor was bold and meaty. It was so meaty, in fact, that the steak itself almost seemed superfluous.
Generally, I think the addition of meat in any sort of sandwich is probably a good idea, but it seemed as though it was an afterthought, as if the sandwich was constructed to work perfectly without the meat, and the steak was added last minute, for some reason. This doesn’t make the sandwich bad by any means, but maybe it would have been better suited as another vegetarian option.
The meat itself was flavorful, but it wasn’t medium-rare at all, in fact it was fairly well done. It was also appeared to be cooked after it was cut into strips, instead of the other way around which probably sacrificed some of its juiciness. Being a cheese person, I thought the addition of the gorgonzola perfectly complemented the meatiness of the sandwich with a strong but creamy element, and I would have liked to see even more cheese on it, but perhaps that’s just my love for dairy talking.
I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I did enjoy this sandwich and, at 9 dollars for a large but not unreasonable portion, I thought it was a great deal.
The star of this lunch for me was obviously the Owl’s Baked Nachos, which I would recommend to anyone, and although they are not the cheapest appetizer (nine dollars) they are reasonable and well worth it. After a bite of my friend’s Paramount BLT, which was completely vegetarian, it became clear to me that this restaurant’s real strong point is its vegan and vegetarian friendly food. Their focus on local and seasonal ingredients makes this a place that can be appreciated by all, regardless of their dietary choices, and after a few glances at their dinner menu, which features entrees that shift daily. I certainly will be heading to The Owl House for dinner sometime in the very near future.
Ford is a member of the class of 2013.